ROOKIE Siuatonga Likiliki will play no further role in Newcastle’s NSW Cup finals campaign and faces a long-term recovery from a knee injury suffered last weekend.
Specialists have confirmed the New Zealand-born speedster will need a knee reconstruction after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament playing in last week’s win against Canterbury.
Knee reconstructions usually sideline players for six months or more, which will hinder the centre’s pre-season preparations for 2013.
The injury could hardly have been more untimely, given that he had been in talks with Knights officials about extending his contract.
Asked to comment yesterday on his status, the Knights said club policy was not to discuss player negotiations.
But when asked about Likiliki’s future on the club’s website forum two weeks ago, Knights coach Wayne Bennett replied: “Tonga is off contract at the end of year, but we are in negotiations now and we hope to have him here next year.”
The Knights are reported to be interested in signing Likiliki’s brother Toka, who plays prop in the Warriors under-20s side.
Likiliki, 22, has played two NRL games for Newcastle since arriving from Auckland last season and was not used in the top grade this year, despite scoring a team-high 16 tries in NSW Cup.
But after the departure of Junior Sa’u and Wes Naiqama, Bennett may view Likiliki as a handy back-up option if first-choice centres Timana Tahu or Dane Gagai were injured.
Injury has also ruled Knights forward Kyle O’Donnell out of tomorrow’s qualifying final against North Sydney at Kogarah.
O’Donnell has a damaged spleen and, barring a miraculous recovery, has played his last game for the Knights.
The promising back-rower will join Penrith next season.
Newcastle, who finished third on the points table, drew 24-24 with Norths two weeks ago, and Knights coach Rip Taylor said confidence was high as they entered the play-offs.
If they win tomorrow, the Knights earn a week off and progress straight to the grand-final qualifier.
“We’ve spoken about opportunity,” Taylor said.
“They’ve presented themselves with an opportunity and we’re hoping to make the most of it and take it as far as we can go.”
The Knights will be without back-rowers Joel Edwards and Matt Hilder, who have not played enough NSW Cup games to qualify for the finals.
But they welcome back Robbie Rochow, who has played eight NRL games this year.
Taylor said halfback Adrian Davis, who suffered a knee injury last weekend, was still hoping to take his place.
“I’ll give him until tomorrow morning,” he said.
“I dare say if he doesn’t play this week, he’ll be right for next week.”